Move More, Feel Great: How Exercise Eases Pain and Sharpens Your Mind

Chronic pain conditions not only cause discomfort and suffering, but can also lead to depression and a loss of will. It is difficult to motivate yourself to exercise when in pain, but your body needs to expend energy to make more energy. The more energy produced this way, the better you’ll feel, both physically and mentally. Exercise not only helps you to become fit and lose weight, but it plays an important role in improving mental health and the way you perceive and handle pain, especially for chronic pain sufferers.

Circulation improves your brain

A study conducted by researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology examined the correlation between physical activity and health-related quality of life. The study, which included 4,500 participants, found that exercising—even at any level—was associated with better physical and mental health compared to no exercise, particularly among older individuals.

Increasing pain tolerance

A study carried out by researchers at the University of New South Wales and Neuroscience Research Australia revealed that by exercising more vigorously or for longer periods, the body can adjust to the discomfort in a positive way. The longer you exercise, the more tolerant you become to the pain and discomfort in your muscles. This is due to the natural release of adrenalin and endorphins, or feel-good chemicals, in the body that weakens our awareness or increases our toleration of discomfort. This phenomenon is known as hypoalgesia.

The six-week study involved having participants cycle three times per week for 30 minutes at a time. Researchers measured the participants’ pain pressure, pain threshold, and tolerance by inflating a blood pressure cuff around their arms. Results showed significant increases in aerobic fitness and pain tolerance after training, whereas the control group, who did not exercise, did not show any changes in their physical fitness levels or pain threshold levels.

Exercise reduces pain in women with fibromyalgia

In a Spanish study published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, researchers examined the association between fitness levels and pain levels in 468 women with fibromyalgia. The study aimed to determine the association of various components of physical fitness with pain levels, pain-related catastrophizing, and chronic pain self-efficacy. The results were positive, showing that a higher level of fitness was consistently associated with a lower pain level experience, lower pain-related catastrophizing, and an increased ability to believe that they can do things independently. Those who had higher combined muscle strength with flexibility experienced the lowest levels of pain.

These studies demonstrate how exercise can improve physical and mental well-being. Engaging in physical activity not only boosts your belief in your capabilities, but also helps your body to adjust to the effort, therefore reducing pain. With less pain comes the ability and desire to do more, which, in turn, can lead to decreased levels of depression and an overall better quality of life.